Transit considers levy increase to help fix financial ‘crisis’

Greater Victoria residents may face a $28.50 tax increase per household this year to offset flatlining B.C. Transit revenues and ridership.

But Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard is concerned taxpayers in the Capital Regional District are the only solution being looked at to address what he called a “crisis in transit.”

B.C. Transit is facing a projected deficit of $5.9 million for the coming year.

“It just seems like a default solution to me,” Leonard said at a Victoria Regional Transit Commission meeting Tuesday. Municipal representatives from Victoria, Saanich, Central Saanich, Oak Bay and Sooke currently sit at the commission table.

“Our taxpayers are going to ask … ‘did you look at other options?’” Leonard said.

But Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said the tax increase supports a system that gets cars off the road, addresses parking woes and improves overall quality of life.

“Having transit service and basically telling everybody to get back into their cars is not an answer either,” Fortin said.

Transit officials said 10,000 hours of busing service, equivalent to between $330,000 and $440,000, may also need to be axed to address the transit company’s budget constraints, heightened last year by lagging global economic conditions.

Increased traffic congestion is also to blame, leading to expensive scheduling delays that result in added fuel and wage costs. Delays also discourage riders from using the service, which cut into revenue.

B.C. Transit has already enacted several cost-saving measures such as freezing spending and hiring and cutting back on capital expenditures.

It’s a dramatic departure from a 2010 to 2013 strategy that outlined the potential to add 50,000 bus service hours. By the end of 2010, the shortfall in revenue and ridership numbers was clear.

Despite monthly and cash fare increases last year, it may be necessary to cut low-performing routes and Friday and Saturday late-night bus service implemented on some routes last September, among other options.

To offset the need for future property tax increases, interim measures need to be put in place to start building ridership and generating revenue – especially with rapid transit still four or five years away, said Manuel Achadinha, B.C. Transit president and chief executive officer.

“We’ve got to do better with what we’ve got,” he said.

Faced with a three-week deadline before they must decide on the recommendations, commission members directed staff to explore the implications of different property tax increases, from zero to 30 per cent.

emccracken@vicnews.com

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